The public policy blog of the American Enterprise Institute

Subscribe to the blog

Discussion: (8 comments)

  1. Robert Bauer

    One problem with the text books is that for many of my MBA classes, if the books were more than a year or two old, much of the specific material was no longer of much relevance. The “basics” remained the same, but f anything that dealt with recent events or conditions, especially trying to look at the economy and business of the last few years, the texts were pretty poor teaching tools.

    Unfortunately, you don’t have the economies of scale when printing textbooks, and many of them have to be updated frequently to stay useful. Having written a number of training manuals myself, I can attest to the fact that this can be a very labor-intensive and time-consuming job.

    The best solution I can think of is to supply every student with an iPad or similar device, and use a suitable electronic publishing format. That way the material could be updated almost instantly as an APP, every semester if necessary, at a fraction of the cost of time and effort.

    Production and distribution costs drop to practically nothing. You can continue to properly compensate the authors for their work, while only requiring a nominal fee from the students. Better yet, the “books” can now become interactive, either with their own programming or with Internet access to additional material.

    I strongly suspect that the textbook publishers are about to price themselves out of business unless they wake up very quickly. All that needs to happen is for the universities, professors, and other experts in various subjects to realize that they can self-publish in this manner, catching the wave of the new tablet technologies. And once some of the critical textbooks are available in this format, what professor in their right mind is going require their students to mortgage their souls for books that at best are likely to be used for only one semester, and worse, are already out of date. Demand for more and better textbooks in this format will increase rapidly. (OK, I’m probably unusual in that I keep ALL of my textbooks, but it would be much easier to refer back to one if it were on my tablet, not packed away, and better yet if it were updated regularly to stay current.)

    An iPad costs less than one semester’s worth of the text books I needed! may be making a start, as is the material already being offered by some universities and on the Internet, but as soon as it is seen that there is money to be made here, I expect more textbook writers are going to bypass the traditional publishers and either publish on their own, or go through another sponsor, university, or group.

    Once upon a time you needed to have your books listed in a publisher’s catalog to have much hope of selling them. Now there are so many other options, one catalog listing would hardly be missed.

    1. Sadly there in no perfect solution to making textbooks cheaper, there are ways of finding cheaper ones for now though. I agree with what you bring up about textbooks but this is all ideal situations. The world of business and education are complicated to say the least. But, thank you for sharing.

  2. @Robert Bauer: Good luck. The Mc Graw Hill wouldnt ever allow anyone to interfere with their profit model.

    1. Robert Bauer

      Like the music industry, perhaps? ;-)

  3. The fundamental issue is that the value added to reference material by publishers is declining in value as marginal costs approach zero.

    Even the concept of the “textbook” is in peril. I have heard the phrase “the textbook is dead” from many university professors.

    When all the university students carry laptops, what is the point of having a course in textbook form. Even EPUB? Straight HTML pages work fine, if not better.

    It will be a rare author indeed who can produce an introductory work on Sociology which is so different and offers such value that Open versions offered by colleagues pale in comparison and students will happily fork over $200 for it.

    The reality is that new technologies have moved core textbooks into the infrastructure category and are better viewed as long-term investments than consumables.

    The new business model for publishers will not to be the ownership of essentially rewritten content, but the construction of curriculum matching structures to a school system’s order. Like a parking lot, it will last a long time and need patching up once in awhile but everyone will happily drive on it.

  4. Having just graduated from the university, I can attest to the insane costs of some books. Other books that are paperback reads are usually within reason. Our bookstore rented the books and they never could seem to tell you if the book was being used at a further term. So, you take the book back for your refund, which is sometimes generous (if the book is being used again by Biology, Sociology, Physics, some class where information doesn’t change much, like beginning psuch classes, where it’s mostly theory from the time of Freud or Marx forward). When I was in college back in the 80s, a chemistry book was good for at least two terms, maybe three. Or a language book. Books should be offered on a rental basis, always much less than the retail book price. And going to Amazon or eBay or Chegg to look for used books is advised. Ask other students what they know about buying and returning books. You can save a lot of money with minimal research. Think of it as a learning opportunity :)

  5. Tami Brown

    I manage two college bookstores & I have to say that rentals have really made a huge impact In the college bookstore. It’s the faculty that makes the decisions about textbook adoptions & the longevity of the textbooks. Publishers like to entice the faculty with “extras” to build their sale, which oftentimes are not utilized by the students that purchase them. There’s a lot more competition in this day & age than the publishers have had in years past because of Internet sales. Wholesalers are also taking a bite out of the publishers’ profits & that’s why you see new editions rolling off the presses at a higher rate.

  6. Doug Whitman

    I have read many of the flat earth and other low priced textbooks in my field- and found them poor- texts that would not have survived the “traditional review process” since they were so poorly written, illustrated, and frankly not “state of the art” in the discipline. Coffee at Starbucks is now about $2 for what once cost 10 cents. So what one compares is critical. I agree that the publishing business is facing a revolution more significant than moveable type. But a few years ago I completed an upper level textbook that took me five very intense years to write; it was not the kind of thing that could be written in six months – the problem I grapple with is why the “leaders” of any discipline would devote years of their lives that could be otherwise used for original research and scholarship if their reward is 15% of $12 -particularly for higher level textbooks for smaller classes? Imagine doing original illustrations for an organic chemistry textbook?

Comments are closed.

Sort By:

Refine Content:


Additional Keywords:

Refine Results

or to save searches.

Refine Content